A Surge of Climate Lawsuits Targets Human Rights, Damage from Fossil Fuels

Cities, states and the fishing industry want courts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for global warming. Others argue government inaction violates rights.

Rhode Island in 2018 became the first state to sue the fossil fuel industry over climate change. Credit: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images
Rhode Island in 2018 became the first state to sue the fossil fuel industry over climate change, citing the growing risks from sea level rise and extreme weather. Credit: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

The past year saw a surge in new lawsuits filed against fossil fuel companies, and major developments in cases pressing governments for action in the United States and abroad. And while the plaintiffs haven’t secured any substantial victories in U.S. courts, they may be scoring a different victory by drawing attention to the inaction of Congress and the Executive Branch, said Michael Gerrard, faculty director at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.

“Lawsuits, even if unsuccessful, can help shape public opinion,” he said. “Mr. Scopes lost the monkey trial, but it led to a lot more awareness about the issue of teaching evolution.”

…There are currently a couple of dozen significant lawsuits around the world that are asking courts to order actions by governments or the fossil fuel industry in response to climate change. Here’s a round-up of the various approaches. MORE


The dire reports from climate scientists won’t stop anytime soon. But news stories over the last week are pointing to a series of factors—from falling renewable energy costs, to grassroot mobilization, to national and international leadership—that could make the next 12 months a turning point in the effort to get climate change under control.

“The omens from 2018 were not good,” The Guardian concedes. “Fortunately, however, 2019 may indeed be a breakthrough year. Public opinion is mobilizing around the world and politicians and businesses are paying attention. There will be a series of high-profile events that will engage the public and governments, and may provide a better way forward than was managed last year.”

Environment correspondent Fiona Harvey cites the upcoming climate summit hosted by UN Secretary General António Guterres as a moment when national leaders “will be put on the spot, and will come under very public pressure as coalitions of civil society groups seek to put their case.” Meanwhile, this summer’s edition of the annual One World Summit convened by French President Emmanuel Macron will aim to push business and investors into a leading role. MORE

Universal Basic Income Is Easier Than It Looks

And we wouldn’t even have to tax the rich to pay for it.


The pros and cons of a universal basic income are hotly debated and have been discussed elsewhere. The point here is to show that it could actually be funded year after year without driving up taxes or prices. Photo by FatCamera/Getty Images

This is part two of a two-part essay. Part one can be found here.

Calls for a Universal Basic Income have been increasing, most recently as part of the Green New Deal introduced by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and supported in the last month by at least 40 members of Congress. A universal basic income is a monthly payment to all adults with no strings attached, similar to Social Security.

Critics say the Green New Deal asks too much of the rich and upper-middle-class taxpayers who will have to pay for it, but taxing the rich is not what the resolution proposes. It says funding would primarily come from the federal government, “using a combination of the Federal Reserve, a new public bank or system of regional and specialized public banks,” and other vehicles. MORE


Katharine Hayhoe: ‘A thermometer is not liberal or conservative’

The award-winning atmospheric scientist on the urgency of the climate crisis and why people are her biggest hope

katharine hayhoe standing on a dirt road in lubbock texas
 Katharine Hayhoe: ‘Fear is a short-term spur to action, but to make changes over the long term, we must have hope.’ Photograph: Randal Ford

What are the most positive developments you have seen in the past year in the climate field? 

I’m asked what gives me hope on a daily basis, and my answer is, I don’t find hope in my science, I find it in people. Over the last few years, the number of people who want to talk about and do something about climate has increased exponentially. Then, there is the unexpected leadership of organisations such as Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, RepublicEN, the Iron and Earth group – young professionals in the oil and construction industries who want to be part of the move from fossil fuels; and the take-up of renewables even in conservative states like Texas, which now gets 20% of its energy from wind and solar power.

Finally, there’s the encouraging news such as solar being the fastest-growing power source around the world, clean energy jobs growing from India to the US, and new technology being developed every year that drops the price and increases the accessibility of fossil fuel alternatives. MORE


A Corporate “Person” May Now Face Felony Murder Charges: Time For The Corporate Death Penalty?

In California, the concept of “corporate personhood” will be tested if PG&E faces charges of aggravated murder, as many media sources now speculate. Although California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says that the extent of PG&E’s liability in this year’s deadly wildfires has yet to be determined, there has been discussion of inflicting the death penalty on a corporate “person” that has repeatedly proven itself to be a criminal recidivist.

In this case, the “execution” of PG&E would consist of revoking the company’s charter and breaking it up, and selling off its assets to new, smaller power companies that would hopefully be more responsible in the way they maintain their equipment and serve their ratepayers. Alternatively, the state of California could step in and take over, turning PG&E into a public, not-for-profit utility.

All of that is speculation, for the time being. What is becoming clear is that, at the very least, PG&E was criminally negligent by failing to follow state regulations on maintaining its power lines. In a document obtained by CNBC News this past November, PG&E acknowledged that it may bear responsibility for the Camp Fire in which 88 people perished and nearly 14,000 buildings were destroyed. MORE

Don’t fall for politicians who promise action on climate change at no cost

Ontario Premier Doug Ford (right) meets with federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in the Legislature in Toronto.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford (right) meets with federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in the Legislature in Toronto.  (CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Who knows how the issue will play in this year’s long pre-election and election campaigns, and what other issues might emerge to eclipse it? For the moment, though, it’s clear the very idea of carbon pricing is under assault across the country, with a national front (so to speak) of conservative leaders lining up to oppose it.

From Scheer to Doug Ford to (quite likely) Jason Kenney after Alberta’s spring election, they’re betting Canadians don’t much care about what will happen to the global climate decades down the road, or care only to the extent that it doesn’t actually cost them anything to avoid the worst.

By another, more cynical, interpretation, they’re betting that however much voters care, they’d rather politicians just deal with it without reminding them at every turn how much it’s going to cost to save the planet. MORE

The economics of insurgency: Thoughts on Idle No More and critical infrastructure

Canada created the crisis of insurgency. Because Canada’s greed created a situation where Indigenous peoples stand with almost nothing to lose.

News reports are ablaze with reports of looming Indigenous blockades and economic disruption. As the Idle No More (INM) movement explodes into a new territory of political action, it bears to amplify the incredible economic leverage of First Nations today, and how frightened the government and industry are of their capacity to wield it.

In recent years, Access to Information (ATI) records obtained by journalists reveal a massive state-wide surveillance and “hot spot monitoring” operation coordinated between the Department of Indian Affairs, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), local security forces, natural resource and transportation ministries, border agencies, and industry stakeholders. These efforts have been explicitly mobilized to protect “critical infrastructure” from Indigenous attack.

What is critical infrastructure?  MORE